Killer of nurse during robbery executed

July 1, 2010 4:52:07 PM PDT
Convicted killer Michael James Perry was executed Thursday evening for gunning down a nurse at her home north of Houston nine years ago and stealing her car.

Perry, 28, mouthed to relatives and friends watching through a window that he loved them.

"I want to start off to everyone involved in this atrocity, they're all forgiven by me," he said in a brief statement from the death chamber gurney.

He lifted his head from the pillow and his voice cracking, cried out: "Mom, I love you."

"I'm coming home Dad. I'm coming home," he added. His father died last month.

He never acknowledged relatives of his victim who looked through an adjacent window.

As the drugs took effect, his eyes fluttered and he hiccupped four times. A single tear ran down his right cheek, prompting quiet sobs from his mother and an aunt and friends. The victim's relatives gasped and motioned to each other.

Nine minutes later, at 6:17 p.m., he was pronounced dead, making him the 14th prisoner executed this year in Texas, the nation's most active death penalty state.

The U.S. Supreme Court, about 90 minutes before the lethal injection, rejected a last-day appeal from Perry's lawyers. They unsuccessfully argued they had new evidence showing Perry was already in jail when 50-year-old Sandra Stotler was murdered in 2001. They also contended a co-defendant and friend of Perry's killed Stotler.

Prosecutors said a "mountain of evidence" pointed to Perry -- most notably that he was seen driving Stotler's stolen car and bragged about the killing before his arrest.

Perry was convicted of shooting Stotler twice in the back at her home and stealing her red Chevrolet Camaro convertible. Testimony showed Perry and a friend, Jason Burkett, then dumped her body in a lake and returned to her Lake Conroe subdivision to wait for her son, Adam. Prosecutors said Perry and Burkett lured Adam Stotler, 16, and his friend, Jeremy Richardson, 18, to a nearby wooded area, shot them dead and stole Adam Stotler's SUV.

Two days later, Perry crashed the Camaro after a police chase. He was arrested and released on bond under Adam Stotler's name because he had Stotler's wallet and ID.

Sandra Stotler's body was found the next day. Police then arrested Perry and Burkett in Stotler's SUV after a shootout. Inside the truck, officers found the 12-gauge shotgun used to kill Sandra Stotler.

"I know it's the needle and I want to save everybody the trouble and just confess," he told police after his arrest, according to court records. At his trial, Perry testified his confession was forced and maintained his innocence.

Perry never was charged with the two other slayings. Burkett is serving a life sentence for his role. A Montgomery County jury deliberated two hours to convict Perry; jurors took another six hours to send him to death row.

"There are so many mornings you can wake up and realize, 'I'm not supposed to be here,"' he told The Associated Press from a death row visiting cage.

Perry said he wasn't frightened of dying but acknowledged frustration with the outcome.

"I try not to focus on it." he said. "I focus on my case, the Bible, my family.

"Any good Christian can't be scared to go to paradise."

The medical examiner in his case, Paul Shrode, was fired from his job earlier this year as El Paso County's chief medical examiner after questions arose about his credibility and competence. A second examiner reviewed Shrode's autopsies and concluded the slayings could not have happened on Oct. 24, 2001, but days later when Perry was in custody on the traffic charge.

Prosecutors said there was "no plausible reason" for Perry and Burkett to be driving the vehicles of Stotler and her son if the two were still alive.

Among evidence against Perry was his DNA on a cigarette butt beneath one of the victims.

Perry also argued on appeal that a fellow jail inmate said Burkett took credit for the slayings. State lawyers said other courts had rejected the argument as self-serving for Perry and "rank hearsay."

Perry was adopted as an infant and later diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and conduct disorder and spent time in a mental hospital. His parents sent him to Boys Town in Nebraska. When he was expelled, they sent him to a secured high school campus in Mexico. Perry said he turned to drugs and alcohol.

Steve Taylor, one of Perry's trial lawyers, said the trial was difficult because of the crime itself and because there were no other witnesses to back up Perry's claims.

"A very sad situation," Taylor said. "If the purpose was to steal a vehicle, you can steal a vehicle anywhere you want to. You don't have to cause the death of individuals to steal a car."

On Wednesday, Jonathan Green, 42, was spared from execution for abducting, raping and strangling a 12-year-old Montgomery County girl, Christina LeAnn Neal, a decade ago. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals said it needed more information about his claims of mental incompetence.

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